Ten-times Grammy Award winners The Manhattan Transfer will open the Bermuda Festival next week. In keeping with its theme, “She is Art”, Lifestyle spoke with Cheryl Bentyne and Janis Siegel about their musical longevity.
Q: The great thing about being a female and performing today is ...?
Cheryl Bentyne: Women are at an all-time high in pop, jazz and country. This is the woman’s time on all fronts in music as well as in the acting field. Look at the successful women passing far beyond their predecessors agewise, and maintaining their high stature as successful women in the arts.
As far as performing, it feels empowering on many levels to stand on stage at 65 knowing I have been doing it since I was 14. I give myself a firm pat on the back as much as I can. I am feeling the audiences, especially the women. Some are maybe even encouraged by seeing women over 20 still creating music. And I feel my intention is deeper and more honest than when I was younger. So … getting better with age?
Janis Siegel: I’ve always just thought it was a great thing to simply be performing this wonderful music. I don’t know … would you ask a man what’s the great thing about being a man and performing today?
I think the men in our organisation would probably agree that having women on the road adds a bit of civility to the roughness of road life. Cheryl and I both brought our babies with us on the road — I think women have a much harder time with the parenting/career conundrum. That will most likely continue, just because of biology.
Q: You are members of a band that has been around since 1969. What kind of platform has that given you? Do you advocate in any way for females in general, female musicians in particular?
CB: I always encourage young singers in workshops to forge ahead as long as there is passion in their hearts.
I just finished a six-hour workshop in Japan — all women, all unique, all passionate. I focused on their passion, always, and bringing out their individual artistry.
Japanese women, as a rule, are very guarded socially, very shy. So for these 12 women to stand up and sing out was a thrill! I hope to continue going every year and build on this empowering experience for the female singers and for myself.
JS: At this junction (no pun intended) I would hope that what our group has accomplished in the past 47 years has given us all a certain stature in the music world. I feel I really should be more of an advocate and I plan to do more of that in the coming years. I have worked with so many masterful female musicians over the years: Renee Rosnes, Helen Sung, Regina Carter, Ingrid Jensen, Endea Owens, Mimi Fox, Silvia Cuenca and Roxy Coss, who is the founder and director of the [Women in Jazz Organization] here in NYC.
Here is the mission statement of that organisation: [We] intend to help level the playing field in jazz, so that women and non-binary people have an equal opportunity to participate in and contribute to jazz, leading to an improved and more rich, diverse and successful art form. The organisation is committed to honouring black Americans as the creators of jazz.
Q: How has your music changed over the years?
CB: My music is always evolving, as I choose to pursue solo work and try new music all the time. My choices in music change as I age, as does my voice — richer, deeper and more personal, I think.
Music is the ultimate expression of life, love and everything in between. As I am a two-time cancer survivor, I am now choosing and writing lyrics that reflect my life journey. I hope to create songs and a show revolving around my cancer comeback.
The percentage of women survivors is staggering. I support individual women — some are friends from long ago, some are new friends.
“We gather by phone, e-mail, even text when the need arises at a given moment.
JS: In some ways it hasn’t changed at all. We started off being eclectic stylistically.
Our first record had vocalese, pop, gospel, close harmony, swing, disco, an Allan Toussaint tune and doo-wop.
The basis of the group has always been four-part harmony singing but we have adapted that sound to many different styles over the years.
Q: Been to Bermuda before? What are you most looking forward to about the visit as a tourist? As a performer?
CB: It’s beautiful! What’s not to like? I will be there only for the show as I have projects ongoing at home. I wish I could stay longer. TMT is [continuing] our celebration of 45-plus years together as well as performing songs from our new CD, The Junction.
JS: Yes. I’m bringing my son and can’t wait to show him the beauty of the island and its history.
Q: Your best career move?
CB: The next one.
JS: Clearly, it was deciding to be a part of The Manhattan Transfer.
• The Manhattan Transfer will perform at the Fairmont Southampton on January 19 at 8pm. Tickets, $95, are available at ptix.bermudafestival.org